Queen Cutlery #69 Barlow and Schatt & Morgan File & Wire Deluxe Pint Barlow
By Gary Zinn
I was a country kid who grew up in the 1950s. About once a month, my parents and I would go to town to shop for household staples and farm supplies, get haircuts, etc. To me, one of the high points of these excursions was stopping in at one or both of the hardware stores in our town. There was a double attraction there, in the form of the gun and knife displays.
In that era, the main retail sources of cutlery were hardware stores, Montgomery Ward and Sears Roebuck. Every small town hardware store sold pocket knives, hunting knives and kitchen cutlery. That is where I became acquainted with brand names such as Boker, Case, Marbles, Old Hickory, Queen and Schrade. (The Marbles and Schrade brand names were much more reputable then than they are currently.)
The good stuff was carefully arranged in display cases, but there was always a bucket or bin containing a jumble of loose pocket knives. These were predominantly jack and pen knives, usually handled in plain bone or celluloid.
This is where boys like me, with a few dollars earned from doing odd jobs, shopped. Every boy I knew had one or more of these plain, inexpensive "hardware bucket" knives and we swapped them frequently. We also used them to play mumbly peg and as payoff for taking outlandish dares, but that is another story.
Barlow pattern knives were a common item in the hardware buckets. I had owned a half-dozen or so of these by the time I reached my mid-teens, including ones that I bought or traded for. However, I came to prefer Stockman and Trapper pattern knives, so the Barlow and I parted ways.
About a year ago, I was browsing the knife offerings of Bear & Son Cutlery and I noticed that they had several good looking Barlows. This got me thinking that I should get reacquainted with the pattern. More recently, I was doing research on the Queen Cutlery Company and noticed some very nice Barlows in their line. That prompted me to acquire the two knives that are the subject of this review. I got both knives from KnivesShipFree, a major Queen Cutlery retail dealer.
Queen #69 Barlow
Queen #69 Barlow. Image courtesy of Queen Cutlery Co.
The knife pictured above is, basically, the Barlow pattern as I knew it in my youth. The long front bolster, fairly wide handle with rounded butt and robust clip point main blade are classic Barlow attributes. However, this knife is different from the Barlows I grew up with in two ways. First, classic Barlows almost always had two blades, a clip main blade and a smaller pen blade. (Queen makes just such a Barlow, the #69-1/2 model.) Second, the feathered buffalo horn handle scales on this knife are a considerable upgrade from the handle materials on the hardware bucket knives of yesteryear.
I chose this knife for the feathered buffalo horn handle material. I had never had a knife hafted with buffalo horn and I am very pleased with it. The scales are an ebony color, with random ivory streaks and flecks that provide visual interest. This makes for an understated but classy looking knife. The handle also feels good. It is smooth without being slick and it has a warm feel in the hand that only natural materials have.
Incidentally, I have seen scattered advertisements for buffalo horn knife handles that are accompanied with images of Cape buffalo or American bison. This implies that buffalo horn comes from one or both of these species. That is bunk, except for an occasional custom knife handle. There are simply not enough bison and Cape buffalo donating their headgear to create a viable supply of horn. The primary source of commercial buffalo horn is the domestic water buffalo.
Queen is apparently fond of feathered buffalo horn, too, because they made a series of knives featuring this handle material in 2015. There were fourteen different knife models in the series, with limited production runs of 500 pieces in each model. This series was expanded to eighteen models for 2016.
Queen also offers the two-blade #69-1/2 Barlow model in feathered buffalo horn and both models are available with stag bone or Queen blue bone scales. The #69 is also available with a Delrin handle.
In the companion article Queen Cutlery Company, I noted that Queen was a subsidiary of a corporation named Servotronics, Inc., between 1969 and 2012. During its last several years under Servotronics, Queen came under considerable criticism for poor product quality.
In 2012, Kenneth R. Daniels (of Daniels Family Cutlery Corp.) bought the firm and took direct control of it as C.E.O. Further, he installed Jennie Moore, a veteran Queen employee, as President. Ken Daniels essentially pledged to straighten out the firm, based on having "knife people" in charge. I was anxious to do my own evaluation of the products that the "new" Queen Cutlery Co. produces, which is why I got two of their recent production knives to review.
On the initial inspection of my #69 Barlow, the only fit and finish blip I noticed was a faint scuff mark on one of the bolsters. Otherwise, the fit of the knife, as well as the polishing of the handle and bolsters, were right on.
Upon detailed inspection, I found two more very small things. First, I noticed that when the blade is opened it pushes the front of the spring slightly above level with the liners. By slightly, I mean no more than the thickness of a sheet of printer paper.
Also, the blade has a very small amount of castoff toward the front of the handle. I first noticed this when the blade was closed and then I verified it by sighting down the spine of the handle and blade with the blade open. Deducting a point for each of these three minor things, I score the fit and finish at 97 percent.
Function of the knife is excellent. The stainless steel back spring yields a firm pull and the blade cycles smoothly, with a good half stop at top dead center. The knife "walks and talks" like a well made slip joint folder should.
Some reviewers get bent out of shape if a knife is not "shaving sharp" out of the box. I am not one of those. My test of blade sharpness is whether a given knife will cleanly and easily slice through a thin sheet of coated magazine or catalog paper. A knife that will do this is PDS (pretty darn sharp). If a new knife is PDS out of the box, it is great. If not, I will still be fine with the factory edge if I can easily bring it up to PDS condition with a little work on crock sticks and a butchers steel.
The edge on my #69 Barlow was very close to PDS, so I was able to bring it up with just a few strokes on fine grit crock sticks and the steel. Incidentally, the blade is flat ground, with a satin finish.
I found nothing about this knife that comes anywhere close to being a deal breaker. It is a straightforward design, made with quality components. Fit, finish and function are quite good for a commercially made knife in this price range. It is a keeper.
Schatt & Morgan File & Wire Deluxe Pint Barlow
Schatt & Morgan Deluxe Pint Barlow. Image courtesy of Queen Cutlery Co.
Queen Cutlery uses the Schatt & Morgan tang stamp to denote its best pocket knives. In 2015, the company offered three series of knives under the Schatt & Morgan brand. Among these, the File & Wire Tested series may be considered the best of the best, by virtue of premium ATS-34 blade steel, used in this series only.
The File & Wire Deluxe Pint Barlow is deluxe indeed, to the point of being a show and brag knife. This starts with the gorgeous stag antler handle scales and continues through the highly polished nickel silver bolsters and ATS-34 stainless steel blades.
The finish of my knife is perfect, as is the fit of the parts. There are no misalignments or gaps between any of the frame and handle components and the springs are perfectly flush with the liners, whether the blades are closed or open. The blades are both precisely centered.
I have yet to find an absolutely perfectly built knife, and it was in function that my Pint Barlow showed a touch of mortality. Specifically, the main blade has a hitch when it is cycled. This manifests as a slight roughness when the blade is pivoted through the middle third of opening or closing.
I cycled the blade a number of times and even oiled the pivot lightly, thinking there might be a tiny metal shaving somewhere in there. The hitch did not disappear, so I suspect there is a slight irregularity on the bearing surface of the tang. I cannot see it, though.
Meanwhile, the secondary blade cycles like it is buttered. The stainless steel springs on this knife are not quite as strong as are those on my #69 Barlow, but they are firm enough to give the blades good snap. The blades do not half stop.
There is something unusual about the blades on this knife. By convention, the main blade on a multi-blade knife is mounted toward the front (shield) side of the handle, with the secondary blade mounted behind or opposite it. Further, the main blade is usually longer than the secondary blade. The stated convention implies that the clip blade is the main blade on the Pint Barlow. However, the secondary spear blade is 1/8-inch longer than the clip blade. As I said, unusual.
I explained my viewpoint on the factory sharpness of blades above. On this knife, both flat ground blades were PDS out of the box and then some. In fact, they are so scary sharp that I will not even think about messing with the factory edges in any way. I do not know if this can be attributed to the ATS-34 steel, or if perhaps there is extra effort made to get an exceptional edge on the Schatt & Morgan branded knives before they leave the factory. Whatever, I was highly impressed with the sharpness of this knife.
Note that there is a distinct difference in the styling of the Pint Barlow and the #69 Barlow knives. The Pint Barlow is a variation on the venerable sleeveboard handle design, while the #69 Barlow has a classic Barlow style handle. The classic Barlow handle is typically wider relative to its length than a sleeveboard. With the wider handle, the classic Barlow can use a wider main blade than can a knife built on a slimmer sleeveboard handle.
This is exactly what we have in these two knives. The #69 Barlow handle is pudgy, with a blade that is wide relative to its length. The Pint Barlow is more svelte in both the body and blades. The long front bolsters are what make both knives Barlows.
I am in the habit of thinking of knives as tools. When I was growing up on the farm, we used our knives hard and this created a mindset that has stayed with me. I mention this, because it leads to the only gripe I have about the Pint Barlow. It is too darn elegant to carry and use!
With my utilitarian view of knives, I have never been able to wrap my mind around the idea of being a knife collector. However, I now have the Pint Barlow and three or four other knives that are of similar quality or uniqueness. I guess it is time to start a display case.
The File & Wire Pint Barlow was a 2015 model year offering. The models offered in this series have been changed for 2016, but there are likely some Pint Barlows still available from one or another of the major Queen retailers. (See the Queen website for a list of these.)
Queen Cutlery languished as a small subsidiary of a company whose primary business was worlds away from the sporting cutlery market. That company, Servotronics, basically dumped Queen and it was fortunate that the firm landed in the lap of Ken Daniels. Daniels has doubtless forgotten more about the knife business than the high tech engineering oriented executives and managers at Servotronics ever learned. As I see it, the first and most important job that Ken Daniels and his team had to accomplish was to restore the reputation of Queen Cutlery as a maker of quality sporting knives.
The two knives I have reviewed were produced in 2015, the third year of operation under the new ownership and management team. As I mentioned earlier, I was quite interested to see evidence of whether the new regime has been able to correct the product quality problems that plagued the firm previously.
Queen has, indeed, been turned around, if the two knives I reviewed are accurate representatives of what is now coming out of the factory. I was prepared to find significant issues with the test knives, but the minor faults I found are trivial and similar small blips can be found in any production knife, regardless of who makes it.
As I commented in the Queen Cutlery Company article, the firm seems to have attained a renewed focus and vitality under its new ownership and management. Consequently, the future for Queen Cutlery looks much brighter today than it did a few years ago.
Copyright 2016 by Gary Zinn and/or chuckhawks.com. All rights reserved.